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<chirping crickets>

Okay, I figured it out for myself anyway. Apparently Palm HotSync looks automatically in the backup folder every time you synchronize, and restores anything in that folder that it fails to find on the device. Who knew?

Once I deleted the backup folder - throwing away my chat log and several apps in the process, but retaining my calendar and phone book - a HotSync after a hard reset appears to have solved the problem. I still don't know which of half a dozen apps that were deleted was causing the service disruption, but hey, fixed is fixed.
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