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Campus calendar is obsession for Berkeley’s Lowell Moorcroft

17 November 2008 One Comment

By Will Jason

On any given weekday, if there is a public lecture or seminar at the University of California, Berkeley, there is a good chance it is listed on Lowell Moorcroft’s online calendar.

For more than four years, Moorcroft, 62, has used university computers to publish “Lowell’s Listings — Intellectual Events Around U.C. Berkeley.” The site has developed a following among local retirees and others who come to the campus to learn about everything from the siege of Sarajevo to the capture and storage of greenhouse gases.

Lowell Moorcroft working on his calendar at a campus computer terminal

Lowell Moorcroft working on his calendar at a campus computer terminal

The calendar has listed more than 10,000 events since 2004, archives show, and it appears to be the most comprehensive listing of U.C. Berkeley events in existence. It is Moorcroft’s life’s work, he said.

But while the calendar has earned Moorcroft praise from his users, he said it has also become an obsession that has taken over his life as he fights to avoid becoming homeless for the second time.

“It’s consuming me,” Moorcroft said of the calendar.

Moorcroft first became homeless in 2000 after he lost his job as a database manager, he said. He discovered the U.C. campus as a place with free computer access to help with his job search. He attended lectures to occupy his time, and filled his stomach with the free food often served there.

He started tracking campus events with a free Yahoo calendar, and by 2004 made the listings available to the public. At the time, U.C. Berkeley had no campus-wide listing of public events.

“There’s just a treasure of things happening on this campus that really was hidden from the public because there wasn’t an easy way to find out about it before,” said Jeff Kahn, manager of the university’s official calendar.

In 2006 the university launched a new calendar network to provide a campus-wide events portal, and Kahn said the network is still expanding. But events for several major departments, such as the law school, are still not part of the network, which is the reason some users say they still use Moorcroft’s calendar.

“It combines all the events into one place,” said Anthony Charles, 63, a retired Berkeley resident who said he attends about three campus events per day. “It’s a lot more complete.”

Moorcroft said he spends the first three hours of his day working on his calendar. He draws from a list of more than 350 individual calendars, and subscribes to hundreds of departmental email lists.

If he has a question about an event, he contacts the organizer directly for clarification, and he has become a familiar name in many departments.

“Most of the coordinators that I work with from time to time definitely know his name,” said Jessica Owen, events coordinator for the university’s Institute of International Studies. “From time to time we’ll have an error on one of our calendar entries, or something that hasn’t been updated, so I’ll get an email from him.”

But Moorcroft’s attention to detail takes time, something that is lately in short supply. According to an eviction settlement with his landlord, Moorcroft must move out of his Berkeley rooming house by mid-December, he said, because he hasn’t been paying the rent. His first Social Security check recently arrived, but with his bad credit and evictions record, he said few landlords are willing to bet on the chance that he will pay.

Landlords may be right to worry, because Moorcroft, a self-proclaimed socialist, dislikes private ownership.

“I have always had problems with jobs and landlords,” he said.

Moorcroft may be facing homelessness, but dressed with a sport coat and tweed cap he could play the part of a college professor. A Midwest native, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and moved west to Seattle in 1969, he said. He cut fabric in a garment factory until he injured his hand and then became an office assistant.

Since then, Moorcroft said he worked in a variety of clerical jobs, and became interested in computers in the 1980’s when they became widely used in offices. In his last full-time job, he was a database developer for a financial advisory firm, he said. Until he lost the job in 2000, Moorcroft said he lived in “a large flat full of tools and furniture and cookware and records and books.”

With his mornings spent on the calendar and the rest of the day at campus events, Moorcroft has little time to spend looking for a job. He said he wants “some kind of small version of the normal life—housing and a part-time job” and knows that he may have to give the calendar up.

“The actual physical work is kind of tiring, staring at the computer screen copying and pasting,” Moorcroft said. “I’d like to get out and sell the [calendar] for a few hundred dollars like you’d sell a business. And if they want to continue it or screw it up, let them do it.”

But with Moorcroft’s life wrapped up in U.C. Berkeley events, it will not be easy to step back from the calendar and lose his closest link to the campus.

“How am I going to find out what’s going on?” he said.

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