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The riddle is solved. It's a little... embarassing. (Or maybe it
isn't?) It was the old binary/text problem.

I was writing the pluto image to disk with, 'w'). But that
doesn't work because it's binary contents. 'wb' is what you need.

Likewise, you'll have to open with 'rb' for reading it back.

Well well. I got on the tracks of this only as I saw Pluto try to
unpersist random 32 bit values as type identifiers... then I knew
something unusual was going on.

Incidentally, I now got Pluto to compile on win32 and I augmented it
with a heap of debug messages (mainly in the unpersist stage). If
anyone is interested in a copy, drop me a line.