In today’s Bulldog wrapup of science and technology news:

  • Elon Musk tweets mysterious ‘tunnel’ project
  • Exploring EPA grant freeze impact on Triangle
  • Facebook takes aim at fake news with new ‘trending’ formula
  • NASA displays Apollo capsule hatch 50 years after fatal fire
  • Appeals court denies full hearing in data surveillance case

The details:

  • Elon Musk tweets mysterious ‘tunnel’ project 

Elon Musk is already going high, and now he says he’s going low. Subterranean, apparently.

Just weeks after suddenly tweeting “Traffic is driving me nuts” and “am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging,” the SpaceX and Tesla founder says it’s on the verge of happening.

“Exciting progress on the tunnel front,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Plan to start digging in a month or so.”

The cryptic statements have launched speculation about another fantastic transportation idea from Musk, who builds orbital rockets at his Space Exploration Technologies company, better known as SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, near Los Angeles International Airport.

But the equivocal tweets leave his tunnel plan completely unclear.

Musk’s tweets didn’t hint at the tunnel’s dimensions, where it will go, whether it will it be for his electric Tesla automobiles, subway trains, his futuristic “hyperloop” tube transportation gizmo or something entirely different.

In the mid-December tweets that started the fuss, Musk named his tunneling enterprise — “It shall be called ‘The Boring Company’ ” — and gave its mission statement — “Boring, it’s what we do.” But he’s been short on details.

Another tweet indicated the starting point would be “across from my desk at SpaceX. Crenshaw (Boulevard) and the 105 Freeway, which is 5 mins from LAX.”

There was no immediate response to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment from Hawthorne’s interim city manager, who is also the public works director and city engineer.

  • N&O: ‘Freeze on EPA, other agencies may be felt in the Triangle’

What might be the impact of the Trump administration’s freeze on federal grants and contracts at the EPA?

It “could have broad repercussions at Triangle universities, nonprofits and federal agencies that conduct research on climate change, health care and other policies that have been Obama administration priorities for the past eight years,” reports The News and Observer.

Read more at:

  • Facebook takes aim at fake news with new ‘trending’ formula

Facebook is updating its “trending” feature that highlights hot topics on its social networking site, part of its effort to root out the kind of fake news stories that critics contend helped Donald Trump become president.

With the changes announced Wednesday, Facebook’s trending list will consist of topics being covered by several publishers. Before, it focused on subjects drawing the biggest crowds of people sharing or commenting on posts.

The switch is intended to make Facebook a more credible source of information by steering hordes of its 1.8 billion users toward topics that “reflect real world events being covered by multiple outlets,” Will Cathcart, the company’s vice president of product management, said in a blog post.

Facebook also will stop customizing trending lists to cater to each user’s personal interests. Instead, everyone located in the same region will see the same trending lists, which currently appear in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and India.

That change could widen the scope of information Facebook’s users see, instead of just topics that reinforce what they may have already heard or read elsewhere. The broader perspective might reduce the chances of Facebook’s users living in a “filter bubble” — only engaging with people and ideas with which they agree.

Facebook introduced its trending list in 2014 in response to the popularity of a similar feature on Twitter, the short-messaging service that competes for people’s attention and advertising revenue.

  • NASA displays Apollo capsule hatch 50 years after fatal fire

A relic from America’s first space tragedy is finally going on display this week, 50 years after a fire on the launch pad killed three astronauts at the start of the Apollo moon program.

The scorched Apollo 1 capsule remains locked away in storage. But NASA is offering visitors at Kennedy Space Center a look at the most symbolic part: the hatch that trapped Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee in their burning spacecraft on Jan. 27, 1967.

A flash fire erupted inside the capsule during a countdown rehearsal, with the astronauts atop the rocket at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 34. A cry came from inside: “Got a fire in the cockpit!” White struggled to open the hatch before quickly being overcome by smoke and fumes, along with his two crewmates. It was over for them in seconds.

Investigators determined the most likely cause to be electrical arcing from defective wiring.

With its moon program in jeopardy, NASA completely overhauled the Apollo spacecraft. The redesigned capsule — with a quick-release hatch — carried 24 men to the moon; 12 of them landed and walked on its surface.

For the astronauts’ families, Apollo 1 is finally getting its due. The tragedy has long been overshadowed by the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia accidents. Remnants of the lost shuttles have been on display at the visitor complex for 1 ½ years.

  • Appeals court denies full hearing in data surveillance case

A federal appeals court said Tuesday it won’t rehear a panel’s decision letting companies like Microsoft refuse to turn over to the government customer emails stored overseas.

The judges of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals split their votes 4-4, meaning the full court will not take the rare step of rehearing a case that resulted in a victory for Microsoft and other high-tech companies in the cloud computing business.

Four judges wrote opinions dissenting from the decision not to rehear the case at the government’s request. In July, a three-judge panel said prosecutors cannot force corporations to release customers’ emails and other data stored on servers overseas.

Circuit Judge Susan L. Carney, who wrote the July decision, said in an opinion Tuesday that the original panel recognized the gravity of concerns that U.S. law enforcement will be less able to access electronic data when a judge decides it is probably connected to criminal activity.

She said the Stored Communications Act of 1986, which governed the case, “has been left behind by technology.”

“It is overdue for a congressional revision that would continue to protect privacy but would more effectively balance concerns of international comity with law enforcement needs and service provider obligations in the global context in which this case arose,” Carney said.

Prosecutors had sought information in 2013 from an email account stored in Dublin, Ireland, saying they thought it was being used in narcotics trafficking.

The government had no immediate comment Tuesday, a spokesman for lawyers in the case said.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith said the company welcomes the ruling and that U.S. needs to update its laws.