Friday, March 28, 2008

Buddhism and the Great Outdoors

I have been reading the book The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac and have become absorbed in the philosophy of Buddhism. For years now whenever I am asked what religion I am by a person who is very religious and I don't feel comfortable saying "atheist" to them I will tell them I am Buddhist. It's not a lie either. I believe in the philosophy of the Buddhist traditions and their road to enlightenment even though I hardly ever meditate and I sometimes get over involved in materialistic ideas.

Buddhism is not a religion, however. Religion is defined as "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods." In Buddhism there is no worship of a God but instead it is the practicing of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as Buddha. There are four basic principles that underlie the Buddhist philosophy that are called the Four Noble Truths. Though, there really is only one basic underlying theme of Buddhism and that is finding truth, or put differently: understanding reality.

The First Truth: There is suffering in life.
My life has been wrought with suffering, though that is of course relative, i.e. compared to billions of other people on earth I have lived quite nicely and my suffering would be laughed at by many as inconsequential. But again, suffering is relative and everyone suffers in life. The first truth is so self-evident that it almost does not need to be mentioned if not for the the second, third, and fourth Truths.

The Second Truth: The cause of suffering is craving.
If you did not crave that cool toy you saw on TV as a kid then you would not be upset if your mother told you that you couldn't have it. Likewise, all negative emotional feelings are driven by craving as well; break-ups being a prime example. When one person leaves another but the other person craves to be with them still it causes an intense amount of personal and emotional suffering. There is good news however:

The Third Truth: Suffering can end.
We get over our problems eventually though some problems take longer than others and sometimes a new problem arises that diminishes the extent of suffering from previous problems. There can be a state of no suffering as well, this is called nirvana, and it is to be strived for.

The Fourth Truth There is a path that can be followed that leads to the cessation of suffering, nirvana.
The path is called the Noble Eightfold Path and I will talk about it in a second. This Fourth Truth and the Eightfold Path is the essence of Buddhism.

Really quickly, from Wikipedia, the Noble Eightfold Path:
1. Right Speech—One speaks in a non hurtful, not exaggerated, truthful way.
2. Right Actions—Wholesome action, avoiding action that would do harm.
3. Right Livelihood—One's way of livelihood does not harm in any way oneself or others; directly or indirectly.
4. Right Effort/Exercise—One makes an effort to improve.
5. Right Mindfulness/Awareness—Mental ability to see things for what they are with clear consciousness.
6. Right Concentration/Meditation—Being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion.
7. Right Understanding—Understanding reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.
8. Right Thoughts—Change in the pattern of thinking.

It all seems very self-evident. And in fact it is. But when is the last time you focused really hard on making sure you were really following these guide lines? Not many people do, I know I am constantly forgetting to watch myself and do the right thing. If you follow these eight rules then you will achieve nirvana. Of course you have to follow them all the time and that can be a little difficult (we are only human after all). does this relate to the great outdoors as I put in the title of this post? Well, back to the Dharma Bums novel I am reading, Jack Kerouac writes very descriptively about nature and the wilderness in the mountains of Northern California and I have decided to follow in his footsteps. Soon I will be starting grad school (to study biochemistry--one of the best ways to understand reality and the ultimate Buddhist career) but before that I will be taking some time to travel and relax. One of the ideas that I have been talking about with a friend of mine is to go on a long hike. To get back to nature. To meditate by living in the absolute silence of the woods. What better place to do that than in Yosemite National Park? It also happens to be fairly close to where my family lives so I can see them again as well. While I am out there I can clear my mind of the cluster-fuck of bad thoughts that have recently been gracing my usually tranquil mind. I can work on bettering myself and be far enough from distractions that I won't have to focus too hard on most of the Noble Eight paths. Hopefully, and I believe likely, I will reach a state of nirvana. I've experienced this before by hiking 56 miles through the mountains of New Mexico, 36 miles around Mt. Rainier, and a beautiful 30 mile beach hike along the Pacific Ocean of Washington State. Many other hikes and camping spots have brought me much pleasure as well but I think it takes a few days of exhausting hiking and observation of nature to really learn to respect it and understand it.

The greatest patience is humility. -Atisha

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lessons on Stocks and the Economy: My Experience

Back in June of '07 I decided to play in he stock market. I had no idea of what I was doing, all I knew is that I wanted to make a lot of money. As you might guess, the market doesn't always do exactly what you would hope and since I bought in the market has crashed. Some of my stocks have rallied recently to he point where I am breaking even again with them but the others are still looking pretty bad. The following is my experience and the lessons I have learned in the world of stocks and the economy.

First and foremost I wanted a stock that would earn me a lot of money. I didn't have a lot of money to begin with so I was looking for a cheap stock that had potential to grow a lot. I started reading about small-cap businesses and what analysts were saying about them. I read one article on that talked positively about a company called Gigabeam that makes high bandwidth wireless transceivers that are supposedly poised to disrupt the market for land-lines used for cable-internet. Since I believe that wireless internet, via WiMax and the advent of the iPhone and more portable wireless devices, is the future of computer technology this stock looked good so I bought some shares at $4.

Within two days the stock price jumped up over 40% and then the next day it was up over 50%. I was making a good amount of money and only three days had passed. Why not hold onto the stock for another few months and make 1000% profit, right? Not so. Now, less than a year later, the company is delisted from the NASDAQ and I had to sell it at $2 loss per share. The lesson from this is don't get greedy. If the price reaches a point that you are making reasonable money--sell. You can always reinvest the money again if you have reason to believe it will go up a lot.

The next two stocks I bought were based on instinct: Apple and Intel. I just really like these companies and as I already mentioned I thought the iPhone was going to be iconic (and I was right). I bought Apple at $132 and Intel at $24. Both went up and up. Apple hit over $200 and Intel was up over $30. It seemed my instincts were paying off. Did I sell? No. And in this case I'm not unhappy about that either. I still believe that Apple will reach $225 in 2009, and Intel is ruling the market and should bounce back. Currently though Apple is at $130 and Intel is down to $21. These stocks fluctuate with the market though and will grow rapidly once we start seeing the economy grow, I hope.

The last stock that I bought I tried using some statistical analysis to pick a good one. Using online software to sift through all the companies I came up with a filter for what companies I wanted to invest in. The basic structure of the filter was a mid-cap company, on the NASDAQ, in the healthcare sector (because I know a lot about science I figured I could determine the strength of a healthcare company), share price less than $10, profit margin above industry standard, low P/E ratio, earnings per share growth of around 20%, high volume of trading, and a lot of analyst coverage. Also, I didn't really care about dividends.

Using that filter I came upon OraSure. OraSure has created a fast and reliable HIV test that can use blood samples as well as saliva. They recently hired someone to their board of directors that is very capable of getting a product through the FDA for over-the-counter sales (the HIV rapid test is already used in hospitals and clinics but has not yet been given the ok for OTC use). The price I bought at was $8 and it is now down around $7. The market is weak but the company is strong so I figure it will bounce back soon. I will also make the prediction that once they are given the approval to sell their HIV test OTC the share price will jump up to around $12 to $13 or more. This is a good stock and I am very happy with it so far even though I am currently losing money on it. In the future I will definitely use a similar filter strategy for picking stocks.

I'm glad I went through this little experiment in stocks because I believe I have learned an enormous amount about how the market works (well it's really simple actually: fear drives the market down, speculation drives it up).

More to come soon from me regarding how I think individual stocks move and where the economy is headed regarding the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and the dropping value of the dollar and the correlated increase in oil prices. For now I would just like any comments on my stock decisions. Anyone out there?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Obama WINS Texas!!!

Okay so you probably heard that Hillary Clinton won in Texas, and by popular vote she did. However, the popular vote is meaningless in the US except to get press coverage. What is most important are the delegates, or the electorate college, and in Texas Barack Obama has 89 delegates to Hillary Clinton's 84. That is a win for Obama! Why the media is playing this off as a Clinton win I do not know. Where Obama really shines is in the caucuses, where he got 28 delegates to Clinton's 19. Even though Clinton beat him in the primaries 65 delegates to 61, the addition of the caucus delegates shows that Obama is actually the winner.

Outlandish prediction: Obama gets his name on the ticket. Obama chooses Joe Biden as vice president, Jim Webb is a second pick if Biden won't run. Obama beats McCain by eight points.

Thoughts? Different predictions?