Ah got you.
As for the asterisk, I think this is a new CS6 feature. It's also there when you select the pen tool and pencil tool. I usually hit Caps Lock to work in precision mode and thankfully it's not there. Apart from thinking it's an aesthetic choice I have no idea what function it could have.
As for your colour issue, maybe try reset appearance?
Sorry I can't be of more help!
Illustrator talks to you with these icons.
Depending on what you're about to do the cursor symbols are slightly different. This one tells you that you will be creating a new path with the brush tool. Other symbols will tell you that a path will be closed or extended or that you will add points to a path.
Watch these carefully.