Ahh, finally somthing I can answer.
For the icons, if you are using gnome 2.4 or higher (which you should) go to the config menu for Gnome. You can get to this through the panel menu usually or by going to the Start Here place in Nautilus. Once you find that, Click on the Themes icon. Alternatively, you can run "/usr/bin/gnome-theme-manager". Then, click the "THeme Details" Button and go to the "Icons" Tab. If you have Crystal Icons installed, click on them and the icons will change. Otherwise, go to "art.gnome.org" when their server is back up to download them and how to install them.
I wouldn't know why root wouldn't have access to the /usr directory.
What error message does it give?