7 Things We Learned From Bob Burns, the TSA's Hilarious Social Media Guru

Courtesy of Bob Burns
Courtesy of Bob Burns

Fans of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) social media pages—particularly its Instagram account, which has more than 820,000 followers—know and love Bob Burns’s wit, even if they don’t know his name. The airport screener-turned-social media maven began engaging travelers around the world with his laugh-out-loud content on the organization's official blog, which launched in 2008. Five years later, in 2013, the TSA's Instagram debuted. Within one week, Burns's hilarious captions and bizarre pictures of "crazy things people attempted to bring through the TSA checkpoint,” as he put it in a recent interview, had attracted the notice of late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

Today, Burns is the TSA’s social media lead, which means he’s the one posting the photos and coming up with the captions that regularly make you chuckle. In less than five years, the account has gained more than 800,000 followers, one-upped Beyoncé, and helped countless airline passengers stay safe and prepared while traveling.

In a Facebook Live interview on Monday, December 18, Burns shared some of his favorite airport anecdotes, offered advice on how to build a social media following, and busted some common myths about his organization.

1. BURNS BECAME INSTA-FAMOUS BY POSTING "INTERESTING CONTENT," BUT SHOCK VALUE DIDN'T HURT.

Burns, who initially began his career with the TSA in 2002 as a screener, “never would’ve guessed in a million years that my job would lead me to being a social media specialist for a governmental organization,” he said. With no official training in social media, he attributed his success to shock value, stating that “People don’t come to a government Instagram account and expect to see humor." The TSA’s international reach and, above all, strong content have also helped the account develop a dedicated following.

Burns advises aspiring social media mavens to “make your content interesting. Choose pictures that are going to get people's reaction and make them comment, and don’t just post because you feel like you have to post something.”

2. TSA OFFICERS DON’T TAKE (OR POST) THE TSA’S INSTAGRAM PHOTOS.

“Some people think we have our officers taking pictures and just posting them to Instagram, which is not the case,” Burns said. “I can’t imagine the kinds of things we’d see if we did that. I have access to all the incident reports, so I can kind of cherry-pick the best pictures and share the best content.”

3. THE CARRY-ON ITEMS AREN’T FAKE, EITHER.

"Some people will actually wonder, ‘Was this a test? Were you testing your employees?’” Burns said. “No, we don’t post those kinds of things on our Instagram account. Everything we post is actually something that someone tried to bring on a plane.”

4. A LIFE-SIZED FAKE CORPSE AND A SANDWICH SLICER ARE JUST TWO OF THE STRANGER ITEMS PEOPLE HAVE TRIED TO GET PAST AIRPORT SECURITY.

When asked about his favorite checkpoint mishaps, Burns recalled the time someone tried to bring a sandwich slicer through security, “like the one you see in a deli,” Burns said. “It’s got the huge blade on it that spins around and cuts super thin slices of roast beef. “

Another time, someone tried to bring a movie prop from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre onto a plane. “This guy’s going around the airport with this life-size corpse in a wheelchair, wheeling it around the airport,” Burns recalled.

5. PEOPLE REGULARLY BRING GUNS AND KNIVES THROUGH SECURITY.

“Knives are always a daily occurrence,” Burns said. “Firearms are pretty much almost always a daily occurrence.”

The TSA finds around 70 guns per week in carry-on bags, “and the majority of those are loaded,” Burns says. "The main reason is, ‘I forgot it was there.’ My favorite [excuse was when] someone blamed it on their mom ... ‘My mom put it in my bag.' It’s like, ‘What kind of mother do you have?!’"

Burns suspects that some travelers “might think if they have a conceal and carry permit, that allows them to bring it on the plane, which is not the case,” he explained. “No firearms whatsoever. But you can travel with them in checked baggage, as long as you follow our procedures, which you can find at tsa.gov.”

6. THE TSA DOESN’T CONFISCATE BIZARRE ITEMS.

Contrary to popular belief, “we don’t confiscate anything,” Burns said. “We give travelers options. If you have time, you can take it out to your car. You could actually put it in your checked bag and have it shipped to you. If you have somebody waiting for you, you can take it out to them and they can get it to you at a later date. We give everyone all the options we can to allow them to keep the item as long as it’s not a firearm.”

And yes, that includes the sandwich slicer. “We try to let you keep your sandwich slicer,” Burns added. “We know you need to slice your meat."

7. AT LEAST ONE PERSON ACCIDENTALLY PACKED A PET.

One time, officers opened up a checked bag and “a Chihuahua popped out,” Burns said. “Imagine the officer’s face when that happened. But it turns out the Chihuahua happened to just crawl into the bag when the woman was packing. She didn’t know, and she zipped up the bag and it wasn’t a carry-on bag, it was a checked bag.”

The Chihuahua incident was immortalized on the TSA’s Instagram page. (Not surprisingly, the dog was “not happy” in the photo, Burns said.)

9 Regional Pizza Toppings Worth a Try

iStock
iStock

Some people can become so devoted to their favorite specific pizza toppings, that many online ordering apps allow you to preset your preferences with the expectation they’re never going to change.

Granted, pepperoni and mushroom with extra cheese never fails to satisfy. But in honor of National Pizza Week (which kicks off today), try ordering one of these regional specialty toppings that might totally change your pizza perspective.

1. Truffles // New York City

Fall is truffle season, and New York’s restaurants and pizzerias love to take full advantage of the fluffy fungi to add flavor. As supplies are shipped through the city's artery of eateries, you'll find several locations that add the shaved delicacy to pies. Yelp reviewers are fond of Song E Napule in the West Village.

2. Lobster //Boston


Karyn Christner via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It’s no great surprise that crustaceans who were occupying the coast just a few hours prior to being served are going to be a town specialty. But Boston does a great job of incorporating shellfish into their Italian-inspired fare, too: One of the most notable dishes is at Scampo inside the Liberty Hotel (and former jail), where chef Lydia Shire takes a thin crust pizza and douses it with heavy cream, garlic, and the meat of an entire two-pound lobster.

3. Provel Cheese // St. Louis, Missouri

If you think you’ve tried every possible cheese variety on your crust, you might have missed St. Louis’s proprietary variation: Provel, a highly-processed blend of Swiss, provolone, and cheddar. Gooey, waxy, and thick, it can be found at area chain Imo’s, which also doubles as the cheese’s distributor.

4. Crab // Baltimore, Maryland


jeffreyw via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

While other area pie shops toss crab on their menu, no less an authority than Zagat declared Matthew's Pizza's crab deep dish pie to be well worth a road trip. It’s pizza so good that it helped fuel writer David Simon through a stint producing HBO’s The Wire. Simon once said "it’s unlike anything that calls itself pizza anywhere in the world."

5. Mashed potato // New Haven, Connecticut

New Haven was already renowned for its pizza before the proprietors of BAR decided to take the concept of comfort food to a new level. Their mashed potato pizza is topped with light, whipped spuds and bacon bits.

6. Salad // Los Angeles


David J via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It seems like a cliché: of course image-obsessed L.A. would spare calories by dousing their pizzas with lettuce. But looks can be deceiving. Grey Block Pizza in Santa Monica uses covers its dough with cheese, onion, and sour cream, which is then topped with a chopped salad, lemon-olive oil dressing, and a layer of fresh avocados. It’s thick, crunchy, and has no ability to spare your waistline.

7. Barbeque // Memphis, Tennessee

Barbeque chicken pizza is everywhere, but if you want it done right, head to Memphis and opt for the pork. Coletta’s—the city's oldest restaurant—takes a standard crust and drowns it in pulled pork and their signature barbeque sauce. The pies are so good that Elvis Presley kept a running tab he’d have Colonel Parker (his manager) pay off monthly. If you’re not local, they’ll be happy to ship one to you.

8. UNCOOKED, A.K.A. OHIO VALLEY STYLE // STEUBENVILLE, OHIO


Daniel Oines via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

While some bloggers have compared this practice to topping pizza with a Lunchables box, there’s no denying it’s an intriguing take on preparing a pie. Pizzerias in Steubenville are fond of cooking the dough and then adding uncooked cheese and toppings post-mortem, allowing the heat from the crust to slowly melt the cheese or using a takeout box to effectively steam-cook the top.

9. Kangaroo //Sydney, Australia

The adventurous meat lover may want to venture to Sydney, where local establishments like The Australian Hotel offer pies topped with rich kangaroo meat. Slices of 'roo tenders are marinated in a pepper and onion olive sauce. If that's too tame for you, the Hotel can also serve up a Salt Water Crocodile slice.

Google Assistant's New 'Interpreter' Mode Can Translate 27 Languages in Real Time

Google
Google

Move over, Google Translate. The Google Assistant's new Interpreter mode can translate spoken French, Spanish, and 25 other languages into English (and vice versa) in real time, according to Gizmodo. The new technology, which will eventually be rolled out to Google Assistant devices and third-party smart displays, brings us one step closer to having a universal translator capable of interpreting all the world's languages—a device previously only seen in sci-fi worlds like Star Trek and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Currently, the Interpreter mode is only being used at three hotels in New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. During a demo at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, a Google employee approached the concierge and asked questions in German. The concierge, equipped with a Google Home Hub, used a voice command to prompt the device to go into interpreter mode. From there, the two were able to carry on a conversation back and forth. Although one error was made, the translated text appeared on the smart display, which provided enough context clues to figure out what the intended message was, according to WIRED.

Technology reporter Shannon Liao at The Verge tested it out with Mandarin. She writes that although it's not perfect, it's still "a pretty big improvement from not being able to understand a foreign language." One common complaint is the lag—users must wait a couple seconds for the Interpreter to issue a translation.

However, Google's product manager, Vincent Lacey, told Mashable that the Interpreter mode is faster and more advanced than that of Google's Pixel Buds—ear buds that provide real-time translations, but only to the person wearing them. With the Interpreter, all parties to the conversation will be able to understand what's being said.

Following the pilot phase at the three hotels, the Interpreter will be available on all Google Home devices as well as third-party smart displays by the end of the month, a Google spokesperson tells Mental Floss. It will also be rolled out to third-party smart speakers and mobile phones in the near future, according to Google. Interpreter Mode supports the following languages: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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