Alumni Snapshot: Frederick "Fritz" Knabe

  • B.S., computer science, Princeton University, 1988
  • M.S., computer science, Carnegie Mellon University, 1991
  • Ph.D., computer science, Carnegie Mellon University, 1995
Data-storage developers and data-mining researchers are in an arms race, Fritz Knabe (CS'91,'95) says. Each time it seems that disc technology has reached its limits, someone comes up with something new. And as non-volatile, flash-based memory also drops in price, there soon won't be any reason to ever delete data, says Knabe, newly appointed distinguished engineer at Marlborough, Mass., based Netezza Corp.

But users have to be able to turn data into knowledge, he says, and the old data-processing models are having a hard time staying relevant.

Search engines, for example, are built on a data-retrieval model that requires an informed human user, Knabe says. "We've all developed these little strategies for focusing our searches," he says. But the only feedback most search engines provide is page rank, and with terabyte- and petabyte-sized databases, relying on the intuition of human users to drill through layer after layer of information is an exercise in frustration. "You would give up," Knabe says.

Instead, data-processing architects are focused on providing guided navigation--analysis and direction--not just results. "Imagine you're trying to understand why your company is getting an uptick in warranty claims," Knabe says. "You may have a human being following their intuition and searching for certain patterns, but they're working with a machine that can actually allow them to apply that against analysis being done by the machine with a really rapid turnaround.

"When human beings are able to use computational engines as tools to understand the world around them, it's tremendously exciting," he says.

Besides data analysis, Knabe is also enthusiastic about cooking. He developed a love for working in the kitchen--especially baking his own bread--during his Carnegie Mellon days, when he was a member of the SCS Dinner Co-Op. Knabe and his wife, Louise, also enjoy bicycling. Many of their trips explore the New England area, but they've also biked through Switzerland on a tandem bike that folds up for easy storage and transportation. "We call it our clown bike," he says, laughing.
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